The Character Sketch

character sketch

Framing a protagonist with a character sketch

A simple enough technique, but one often overlooked by experienced and novice writers alike. I enthusiastically recommend the character sketch. A frame for a new character sufficient to start understanding them is easy and leads to a better representation on the page. It is built from four basic sections:

  1. Summary – the high-level view of the very core of being. If you were his best friend, what three things would you consider the essence of him?
  2. Repeated action. Something he is known for doing – his ‘thang’.
  3. Self Portrait. His own opinion of himself
  4. Appearance. Physical description, which does not need to be detailed at this stage.

For my example below, I have again deliberately chosen a subject who I would not naturally write about. I have used an amount of the transposition of self techniques mentioned here to try to avoid venturing out of my depth:

Character sketch – Summary

Steve had spent his life in education. Craving the acceptance and reinforcement of his efforts that his parents never gave him. He found a peace in books, their facts stated clearly and unambiguously for him to digest. His grasp of subtlety, or lines between the lines, was scant at best.

Character sketch – Repeated Action

Steve couldn’t help but look at pretty women. He was a sucker for any piece of skirt who flashed him the eye. The faintest glimmer of half-chance at some tail and he would throw himself knowingly headlong into a bear trap, relishing the challenge.

Character sketch – Self Portrait

I know what I am. A middle aged hipster with a penchant for fast cars, fine wine and a pretty face. I like to think I’m intelligent, I am at least intelligent enough to acknowledge the potential for pockets of stupidity. A trait I find rarely enough in the world to consider it valuable. There again, if I think everyone else is an idiot with me the noted exception, is it possible I’m the idiot?

Character sketch – Appearance

Steve was tall and built like he’d played a lot of sports in college… which of course he had. His easy smile conveyed a confidence and attainment of peace with himself, knowing what kind of man he is as well as his value. He had short cropped hair and a two-day stubble framed his angular face, his lips maintaining a slight grip on a filter cigarette. His clothes were understated but of good quality. A dark coloured suit and shoes, accented with purple socks and tie; just a hint of the character lurking beneath the staid exterior. His watch and rings pointing to his affluence, but only to those with knowledge of such things.

Try a new method

Deliberately complete a character sketch to build a character the opposite of those you usually choose. Using the template above, create him or her in three dimensions. You may want to use some contradiction, or perhaps make use of powerful first impressions. You should find the result is a usable and believable character that you understand and could use in a story. Let us know how you get on – leave a comment or head for Facebook and Twitter if you prefer, as well as our other social media networks from the links in the menu above.

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